Retiring Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Scott Murphy began his career days with, literally, a bang.
“At 12, my mom helped me start a fireworks stand,” remembers Murphy, now 62. “My first stand burned down, and I was in it. I had to …
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“At 12, my mom helped me start a fireworks stand,” remembers Murphy, now 62. “My first stand burned down, and I was in it. I had to be dragged out.”
Fortunately, things improved after that for Murphy, who will retire in June. By 16, he had six employees and successful stands on each end of Lake Loveland. Raised by a single mom, a teacher, the venture paid for his bachelor's degree in social work from Colorado State University.
But he wanted a graduate degree, so he continued to find creative ways to supplement his income. At one point he went to work for a guy who repossessed items like TVs and furniture.
“But here I am a social worker,” he said. “One day I went up, knocked on the door, and there was my client. I only lasted about three days.”
While working toward his master's in public administration from the University of Colorado, he worked with youths in Boulder County for a time, and later with the Colorado Department of Education as an evaluation analyst. He eventually became the CDE's director of community-based education.
“I never quit social work, I just changed clients,” he said. “I get to work with people and help them be the best they can be. I was able to take that and help people focus on what's important.”
Continuing his climb up the ladder, he landed in Aurora Public Schools for three years as the budget director.
“They were wonderful people to work with, and I loved knowing the schools and how the educational system works,” he said.
He went on to become the assistant superintendent in what was then the tiny Brighton school district, doing everything from sweeping floors to negotiating the multimillion-dollar deal to sell the land that became Denver International Airport.
“It was the greatest opportunity I've ever had, and I didn't know what I was walking into,” he said.
Six years later, he became the chief financial officer for Littleton Public Schools. It was 1990, and the district was in the midst of its most turbulent time ever up to that point.
“About 1,500 people were at that first board meeting, and from that point on, we were off to the races,” he said.
A “back-to-basics” slate had just been elected to the board and was making sweeping changes. Ironicially, notes Murphy, some are federally mandated standards today. But it caused quite a stir in what had been considered a progressive district.
“We did learn some very, very important things very painfully,” he said. “Academics are extremely important to people. But at the same time, how we treat people is very, very important to people. That same board was voted out two years later. You can have different points of view, but it's about how you treat people. And all voices deserve to be heard. When you think you're the only one who's right, you're in for a fight. … Since we came out of our difficult times, we've had phenomenal boards that don't care about politics, they care about kids.”
Judging from comments made during the sold-out Littleton Public Schools Foundation fundraising gala earlier this month, Murphy has managed to maintain the unity that ensued since those early days.
“Usually I'm the coolest guy in the room, being the beer guy, but son of a gun, I think you've got me trumped,” said Todd Thibault of Breckenridge Brewery, which hosted the dinner.
Lucinda Hundley, retired assistant superintendent, called Murphy a “selfless servant” and a “visionary leader” with a knack for building common ground.
“Scott is known for taking the politics out of school finance,” she said.
LPS Board President Jack Reutzel, commenting on the creation of the Scott Murphy Legacy Fund that will support security and mental-health efforts, praised Murphy for having the ability to recognize where there are needs.
“The most important thing in our lives is how we impact children, and how they become successful,” he said.
Murphy gives credit to the staff, board, his predecessors and the community as a whole for the district's success, even when there were struggles like school closures and layoffs.
“Sometimes moving forward, you want people to not feel left behind,” he said. “Everyone wants to move forward. Even if you like the way things are, you still want your flowers to grow. I want to bring everyone to the table. That's my social-worker side.”
Moving forward for him means traveling with his wife, Teri Chavez, and serving on a variety of education-related boards and committees. He's also teaching school finance at Regis University, and spends time feeding the homeless at St. Elizabeth's on the Auraria Campus.
During the gala, after withstanding some good-natured jabbing about being known as the “no-snow-day superintendent,” Murphy thanked those who have stood in his support.
“All of us together are a team,” he said. “Thank you for letting me be a part of it. And thank you for always being about students' success in whatever they may choose to do. We do this work together, and for that I will always be an LPS cheerleader.”
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